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This webpage reproduces a section of
Lives of the Eminent Philosophers

Diogenes Laërtius

published in the Loeb Classical Library, 1925

The text is in the public domain.

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(Vol. I) Diogenes Laërtius
Lives of the Eminent Philosophers

Book I

 p. ix  Introduction


The Book and its Author

The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers is commonly ascribed to Diogenes Laertius; but who he was, when and where he was born, is nowhere recorded. It is not quite certain that he is rightly named. Eustathius calls him Laertes; in some ancient authorities he is styled Laertius Diogenes, and among modern scholars there are those who have adopted this order of the two names as the more correct. Yet, while the author remains thus obscure, his work has by a lucky accident become famous.

It professes to give an account of the chief Greek thinkers and in this way to unfold the course of the speculative thought in Greece. Many books had been written on the subject before; this, by the caprice of fortune, alone remains. It is idle to set bounds to the vanity of authors; but surely the writer of this book in his fondest dreams can scarcely have imagined that he, Diogenes Laertius, would survive, when Hermippus and Sotion had perished, and with them the long procession of respectable authorities whom he punctiliously parades at every turn. Yet so it is: habent sua fata libelli.

p. x Although allusions to this work in later writers are but scanty, we can yet in some measure follow by their aid the fortunes of a literary venture which turned out a success. We learn from the omnivorous Photius that Sopater referred to this work. In the sixth century of our era Stephanus of Byzantium cites it three times. Next comes the Lexicon of Suidas, which is also a Dictionary of Biography, containing certain articles generally attributed to Hesychius of Miletus, who wrote about A.D. 590. It would seem at first sight as if Hesychius were acquainted with the work. At any rate, he has repeatedly made all but identical extracts, presumably from the selfsame authors. Not only Photius in the ninth century, but Eustathius and Tzetzes in the twelfth, have heard of it. The foregoing notices come from the Eastern Empire. When Constantinople fails us, the book has travelled to the West. In the thirteenth century, when scholasticism was at its height and rude Latin translations of Aristotle were being made, curiosity was roused concerning the other great philosophers mentioned by Aristotle. An Englishman, Walter de Burleigh (1275‑1357), a disciple of Duns Scotus, endeavoured to satisfy this curiosity by a Latin work, De vita et moribus philosophorum, drawing his materials principally from Diogenes Laertius. When the fifteenth century brought the revival of learning and the invention of printing, there appeared a Latin translation by Ambrosius; and, half a century later, the Greek text was printed at Basel. Our author became fashionable and usurped more authority than was his due. He was a prime favourite with Montaigne. Amongst others, Casaubon and Stephanus (Henri p. xiEstienne), Menagius (Ménage) and Gassendi became his editors or interpreters. Before long, histories of philosophy began to be written, and pioneers like Stanley and Brücker did little more than rearrange and amplify the contents of his work. How great was the credit he enjoyed is shown by a trifling fact. Some editors actually inserted in the text of Homer the hexameter line cited by him (VI.63) in his Life of Diogenes the Cynic, although the verse is not found in any of our manuscripts of the Iliad and was apparently unknown to the Scholiasts. And even when his authority had somewhat waned, sober critics still realized how much treasure was contained in this earthen vessel. The editors of the Palatine Anthology and its Appendix had long ago ransacked him for epigrams; when Meineke collected the fragments of the Comic poets, he found in our author much spoil; and there are in him many fragments of Timon too. Last but not least, the epistles and fragments of Epicurus, which form so large a part of Book X, have unique value.

To return to the author, whom we agree to call Laertius, trustworthy conclusions may, in default of other testimony, be drawn from the internal evidence afforded by his book. Something may thus be gleaned regarding his date, his poems, his mistakes and weaknesses, and his general method of working. He is clearly not writing from personal knowledge: from the nature of the case, he is borrowing, copying, making excerpts and citations. It is therefore only just to mention such traits of initiative or individuality as can be discovered, in order to avoid the mistake of regarding him as a mere unintelligent compiler or mechanical copyist.

p. xii The date of the work may be provisionally fixed in the earlier decades of the third century A.D. For the latest philosopher mentioned is the otherwise unknown Saturninus, a pupil of Sextus Empiricus (IX.116); Sextus is supposed to have flourished towards the end of the second century A.D. Thus Laertius would be a younger contemporary of, or at any rate not much later than, such authors as Lucian, Galen, Philostratus, and Clement of Alexandria, not far removed in time from Apuleius, even nearer to Athenaeus.

There are good grounds for not placing Laertius as late as the fourth century. He never alludes to the rise of Neo‑Platonism; and, although not much dependence can be placed on his omissions, since he drew his materials very largely from authors who lived centuries before his time, yet, in this instance, had the revival of Platonism already begun, he might have been expected to notice it when writing his Life of Plato for one who was deeply interested in the Platonic philosophy.1

This was not his first work. He had already put forth a Medley of Metre (Πάμμετρος) in at least two books, since he quotes (I.39) from the "First Book." This consisted of epitaphs on eminent men, many of which he cites with amusing complacency in the Lives. Truth to say, they are but sorry stuff. Yet, his own compositions apart, we cannot deny that he had taste. Eight lines of Callimachus which he has preserved (IX.17) on the flimsiest pretext, obviously because he admired them, outweigh all the insipid or even flippant verses which he wrote himself, and which p. xiiiare duly enshrined in the Palatine Anthology or its Appendix.​2 Many of them, by a singular error of judgement, are made to turn on the final scene, the circumstances in which a man died — a barren, unprofitable theme. For, with rare and splendid exceptions, his philosophers, unlike Plutarch's heroes, were to outward seeming just ordinary mortals who lived uneventful lives and died in their beds. Their conflicts and triumphs, the discoveries they made and the revolutions they wrought, belong to the world of letters and of ideas.

From every author we expect some acquaintance with his subject. But this biographer of philosophers nowhere claims that he had himself studied philosophy, nor does he give any hint that he belonged to one of the recognized Schools.

In one passage​3 he has been thought by some to speak as if he belonged to the later Sceptics. Others argue that what has really happened is this: he has used an excerpt from a Sceptic's work without clearly indicating that it is a citation. In modern parlance we might call this leaving out inverted commas.

Neither can Laertius be pronounced an Epicurean on the strength of the encomium on Epicurus (X.9). For this is most likely not his own: he may again be quoting one of his sources. And even if it be his own, that does not prove him to be of the p. xivSchool. Lucian in his account of the arch-impostor, Alexander of Abonoteichos, pays a high tribute to Epicurus and his writings; whence it might hastily be inferred that Lucian was an adherent of the sect, did we not know his real sentiments from his other works. Celsus, to whom he dedicated his Alexander Pseudomantis, was a Roman Epicurean, and the laudation of the system was intended for him. And another writer, less witty and more serious-minded than Lucian, might none the less occupy a position of detachment.

Diogenes Laertius could not have been at the same time a Sceptic and an Epicurean. But he treats both these sects with genuine sympathetic interest.

The impression left upon the unprejudiced reader by close acquaintance with our author is that he is dealing with a Dryasdust, vain and credulous, of multifarious reading, amazing industry, and insatiable curiosity. Of his industry there can be no question. When he tells us that he had found something in the Memorabilia of Favorinus (VIII.53 ἐγὼ δ’ εὗρον), we cannot help believing that he had searched for it himself, and perhaps enjoyed the search as much as the discovery. To countless good stories he has added decrees, epitaphs, epistles; among other documents the last will and testament of no less than six philosophers.

It is hard to realize, at first, how much in the work is borrowed. The numerous references give it an air of erudition, until it dawns upon us that many of these may come from an earlier writer whom Laertius is copying. How many of the two hundred sources cited he had read himself, we have no means of determining. But it is reasonable to assume that p. xvhe had read the most famous among them — such as Hermippus, Sotion, Apollodorus, Demetrius Magnes — whom he cites so freely. The same, or at all events a similar, tale was told from generation to generation: the later compiler had the greater number of predecessors upon whom to draw. Much the same thing happens in modern times, e.g. with the histories of Greece and Rome, which are always being rewritten. Originality comes out in selection and arrangement rather than in research. The materials are in the main the same, but the structure varies with the fashion of the day. Now in our author's day the fashion favoured personal details, anecdotes, and witty sayings. Of these there are choice specimens in Books VI and VII. This fashion encouraged in authors a peculiar species of research, which is best exemplified in Athenaeus, though Aelian and the biographer of the Ten Orators are also tinged with it. These writers would seem to have ransacked earlier literature in order to discover anything novel and startling, a variant on an old story, a fresh presentment of events, unpublished memoirs, surprising episodes. It has been said that Plutarch would willingly exchange a whole dull volume of annals for a single golden anecdote: in his judgement "an action of no moment, a remark, a jest, revealed character better than sieges or battles and the like great achievements."​4 Laertius was of the same mind; only he is sometimes content with baser metal.

He was uncritical and wrote for an uncritical age. p. xviHe accepts the legend of the Seven Wise Men who exchanged formal visits and letters; he accepts even their verses as enumerated by that exact historian Lobon! Aristippus On Ancient Luxury, a dialogue of Heraclides of Pontus, a forensic speech of Dinarchus, are all good evidence for him. Yet it must be allowed that the admixture of error is seldom obtrusive. Rarely do the added details mar an otherwise consistent portrait. The insertion of extraneous matter which disturbs the context is a too common fault, of which the trial of Socrates, (II.38 sqq.), the education of Plato (III.5 sq.), the death of Empedocles (VIII.67‑72), and the garden of Epicurus (X.10) are typical instances. Where the patch does not suit the stuff, the rent is made worse; this is particularly true of the marginal notes or scholia interspersed in the text of Epicurus in Book X.​5 In a similar way, in the Lives the main narrative followed may suffer or be in part effaced by the intrusion of untrustworthy or inconsistent detail.

There are also mistakes due to careless handling of the vast mass of excerpts, so that some seem to have got into the wrong "Life": e.g. in II.1 Anaximander is credited with a discovery of Anaxagoras. This is only the first of many such slips: thus he successively confounds Archelaus with Anaxagoras, Xenophanes with Xenophon, and Protagoras with Democritus.6

Noticeable too are the historical allusions, which become especially frequent when we reach the events of the third century B.C. Some of these present p. xviiproblems which puzzle the professed historian. What, for example, was the naval battle, upon the result of which Arcesilaus would not offer congratulations? (IV.39). What were the events which led to the bankruptcy of Hipparchus? (V.55). What is the truth about the alleged decree of the Athenians conferring on Zeno a golden crown? (VII.10‑12). Other passages also can only be cleared up by reference to the political conditions of the time.7

Interest in philosophical questions becomes, indeed, often almost a secondary consideration with Laertius. Yet he shows concern here and there to gain credit for not neglecting this branch of his subject. On the philosophy of the Cyrenaics (Book II), the Cynics (Book VI), and the Stoics (Book VII) he runs on at length. Epicurus is allowed to speak for himself.

To sump up. The Lives and Opinions of the Philosophers belongs rather to literature than to philosophy. It is a contribution to the biography of men of letters who happened to be philosophers. It has unique value, because so little ancient biography of this sort has come down to us. Its attractiveness and importance are the greater, just because there is so little of Laertius in it. In the main he reproduces what he has received. We are able to compare his Pythagoras with those of Iamblichus and Porphyry, his Plato with that of Olympiodorus, his Solon with Plutarch's, and in none of these comparisons has he any reason to be ashamed.

p. xviii II

Plan and Contents of the Work

The title in brief is Lives and Opinions of the Philosophers — more exactly (in cod. P) Βίοι καὶ γνῶμαι τῶν ἐν φιλοσόφοις εὐδοκιμησάντων καὶ τῶν ἑκάστῃ αἱρέσει ἀρεσκόντων ἐν ἐπιτόμῳ συναγωγή. It is called by Photius φιλοσόφων βίοι and by Eustathius σοφιστῶν βίοι. There is no dedication. But Book I begins with a kind of prelude, mentioning systems of thought, if such they can be called, outside Greece — those of the Magians in Persia, the Chaldeans, the Gymnosophists or Fakirs of India, and the Druids, some of whom had been supposed (not without cause) to be more ancient than any philosophers of Greece.

Here it may be convenient to explain a difference of terminology, trifling in itself but not without serious consequences. Where we talk of a "school" or "schools" of philosophy, the Greeks preferred to speak of a "succession" or "successions" (διαδοχαί) of philosophers. The work before us professes to trace two such successions: the Ionian in the east and the Italian in the West, certain "stragglers" bringing up the rear for whom no place could be found in either. The same word "succession" is used of rulers: as "Amurath to Amurath succeeds," so in the schools each master hands down doctrine and authority to his disciple, the line of scholarchs being thus assimilated to a pedigree or genealogical table. It is a result of this method that we are apt to separate thinkers and influences upon thought, which, to be properly understood, must be studied p. xixin conjunction: instead of exploring a new country, we cut a geological section across it. Thus Laertius deals with the Pre‑Socratics in Books I, II, VIII, IX, making the transition from Thales to Plato at express speed, with but four or five intermediate stages; while the Pythagoreans and Eleatics, Heraclitus and Empedocles, stand over, to be introduced much later in an entirely different setting.

The first book proper has, to be sure, little to do with philosophy. It treats of Thales, Solon, and those other shrewd men of affairs who lived in the sixth century B.C., and about whom a web of romance had been woven. With Book II the Ionian succession which started with Thales advances from Anaximander through Anaximenes, Anaxagoras, and Archelaus to Socrates (II c. 5). Having carried philosophy to Athens, our author remains at Athens or in its immediate neighbourhood throughout Books II (cc. 5‑17), III (Plato), IV (The Academy), V (Peripatetics), VI (Cynics), VII (Stoics). The Ionian succession having thus been traced into many divergent branches, the Italian succession is next unfolded in Book VIII, Empedocles and Eudoxus being included. There remain various thinkers, less success­ful as founders of schools but of undeniable importance, and these are taken in some sort of affiliation in Books IX and X. In Book IX Heraclitus is followed by the Eleatics, the Atomists, and the Sceptics, Diogenes of Apollonia "a belated Ionian," and the sophist Protagoras being included. Lastly, to Epicurus, as to Plato, a whole book is devoted. A common name, "Sporadics," is given to the very dissimilar schools crowded into the two concluding books.

 p. xx  The ten books are of unequal length. The Seventh is the longest, and yet it has come down to us in a sadly mutilated condition. The evidence for this is the Index to the "Lives" prefixed by the scribe of the Paris manuscript known as P. The philosophers there given agree with our text for the other books; but the list for Book VII contains 22 names, of which only the first three are extant in P or in any other known manuscript. The titles of the lost "Lives" are — Zeno of Tarsus, Diogenes, Boethus, Apollodorus, Mnesarchides, Mnesagoras, Nestor, Basilides, Dardanus, Antipater, Heraclides, Sosigenes, Panaetius, Cato, Posidonius, Athenodorus, a second Antipater, Arius, Cornutus. If all these were treated with even average fullness, the book would be doubled in size. Whether this in any way accounts for the mutilation is matter of conjecture.

The disproportionate treatment of Plato and Epicurus is not due so much to a mass of biographical detail as to the insertion of supplementary matter. Book III includes a sort of introduction, very much like that of Albinus, to the philosophy of Plato, followed by a summary of Platonic doctrine; while Book X is made up largely of extracts from the writings of Epicurus, by far the most precious things preserved in this collection of odds and ends.

The Lives of Pythagoras and Empedocles are relatively valuable contributions, owing to the use made of the Sicilian historian Timaeus for Empedocles, and of Alexander Polyhistor for Pythagoras. The summary of Stoic doctrine in Book VII (39‑160) is comprehensive and trustworthy. The Lives of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and the three great Stoics make articles which would not be unworthy of an  p. xxi Encyclopaedia. As literary portraits, the Lives of Polemo, Crantor, Crates, and Arcesilaus have high merit, and this applies in a less degree to the articles on Lyco, Menedemus, Pyrrho, and Timon.

On the other hand, the earlier thinkers, whether Ionians or Eleatics, are treated in a perfunctory manner wholly unworthy of their great influence and reputation. Heraclitus is a caricature; Parmenides, Zeno of Elea, Diogenes of Apollonia receive the most meagre of memoirs; even of Anaxagoras, Empedocles, and Democritus how little are we told!

Within certain arbitrary limits of time the successions traced are complete: there are few notable omissions, but Eudemus, Metrodorus of Chios, and Nausiphanes are barely mentioned. The Academy leaves off with Clitomachus; so that nothing is said of Philo of Larissa or Antiochus of Ascalon. The Peripatetics end with Lyco. For the later Sceptics our author gives the line of succession from master to disciple without either life or summary of views. The catalogue of Aristotle's writings follows that of the Alexandrian Library, ignoring the new edition of Aristotle prepared by Andronicus of Rhodes in the reign of Augustus.

Apart from omissions, some have found indications that the book, as it stands, does not present the final form intended by its author. In X.29 as well as in III.47 the reader is addressed in the singular, and it is a natural inference that the lady deeply interested in Platonism was the patroness for whom not only the Life of Plato but the whole work was intended. Accordingly we should expect a dedication. But circumstances may have interfered: suppose, for instance, the lady had died before the work was  p. xxii finished, or had ceased to regard Laertius with favour. As to her identity, conjecture has, in the general dearth of information about the early years of the third century, proposed no more than two names: an Arria, mentioned by Galen, and the wife of Septimius Severus, the empress Julia Domna who died A.D. 217.

On the whole, the suggestion that the work is unfinished does not seem to be made out. Certainly the last six lines of X.138, the last in the book where the author is speaking in his own person, seem to point clearly to the opposite conclusion: "Come then, let me now set the seal on my entire work as well as on this philosopher's Life, by citing his Sovran Maxims, therewith bringing the whole work to a close, and making the end of it to coincide with the beginning of happiness." In any case, the last book was brought to its intended conclusion.

The amount of padding in Book X may seem strange, but the cause lies rather in the sources used by Laertius than in his manner of using them. This brings us to the consideration of his use of authorities and to the general question of his indebtedness to his predecessors.


Authorities for the Lives

The chief authorities date from the third century B.C., and the inquiry respecting them opens a neglected chapter in Greek literature. It is true that Plato and the other authors of Socratic dialogues had brought the art of the biographer, under one p. xxiiiaspect, to perfection; but the genius and charm, the original and spirit of inquiry, so justly extolled by Aristotle,​8 admit, nay require, an admixture of artistic fiction foreign to a faithful narrative. Aristoxenus, again, and the historian Neanthes indulged freely in anecdote. But the true pioneer is probably Antigonus of Carystus, circa 290‑239 B.C. Born in Euboea, and a pupil of Menedemus of Eretria, he came to Athens about 270 B.C. and thence to Pergamum. He was himself an artist and wrote on sculpture and painting; but his chief work was the Lives of some contemporary philosophers. To Laertius he was the primary source, in Book IV, not only for Arcesilaus, but for his predecessors Polemo, Crantor, and Crates. It is probable that the Lives of Menedemus (II c. 17), Lyco (V c. 4), Zeno (VII c. 1), Dionysius (VII c. 4), Pyrrho (IX c. 11), and Timon (IX c. 12) are drawn largely from the same source. On all these there is stamped the impress of a peculiar style — piquant, fluent, periodic — and a distinctive mode of treatment. Antigonus seems to have aimed at drawing literary portraits or character-sketches of the men whom he knew, or about whom he had learned in conversation. He notices particularly their favourite poets, their taste in literature, and of course their writings, with attention to their style. Their philosophical opinions were of secondary importance and were only touched upon by him as influencing their conduct. His reputation ranked high. A born narrator, with the knack of picking out the most credible version of a story, either at first hand or from oral testimony, he was a quarry for various compilers before Laertius.

 p. xxiv  Hermippus of Smyrna, a pupil of Callimachus at Alexandria, is a writer even more frequently cited than Antigonus. His Βίοι, which dealt with eminent men of letters in general, were remarkable for their fullness of detail. He was fond of fables, stories of adventure, and malicious gossip. For all his learning, historical accuracy was not his sole aim, to judge by some highly-coloured accounts of the deaths of his subjects. As he had access to the Library at Alexandria, he gave careful catalogues of writings; as a Peripatetic, he availed himself of the Wills of Aristotle and Theophrastus.

There were also special biographies of another sort. The reverence felt for the founder of a school sometimes sought expression in a memorial volume, such as that upon Plato by Speusippus (III.2), or the Life of Epicurus by Apollodorus (X.2).

With the second century B.C. we come to a new development. Hermippus and his imitators had taken their subjects indiscriminately. The next step was to select one class — poets, historians, or orators.

Sotion of Alexandria confined himself to philosophers, and between 200 and 170 B.C. produced his great work entitled Διαδοχή or Διαδοχαί. For this purpose he used an abridgment of the Physical Opinions of Theophrastus. Sotion's work was probably in thirteen books, and from a comparison of our author's citations no definite idea of the arrangement can be formed; but, as his second book dealt with Aristippus (II.7485), his fourth book with Plato or Diogenes the Cynic (VI.26), his seventh with Diogenes the Cynic (VI.80), his eighth with Chrysippus (VII.183), and his eleventh with Timon (IX.110112), he would seem to have given the same p. xxvprominence as Laertius gives to the line of succession from Socrates to the Cynics and Stoics. It is significant too that, apart from those of later Stoics (now lost) and the Academics, Carneades and Clitomachus, very few of the Lives in Diogenes Laertius are later than Sotion. In two instances (II.85 and VI.80) judgements of Sotion on the genuineness of writings of which a catalogue is given, perhaps from the Library at Alexandria, are cited by our author.

Another biographer who posed as a critic was Satyrus, whom Diogenes cites nine times. In VI.80 he is said to have rejected certain works attributed to Diogenes the Cynic; but, as he retailed the story that Socrates had two wives (II.26) and regarded Aristippus's work On the Luxury of the Ancients as trustworthy history, his standard of credible evidence was by no means too severe.

Sotion's work, whether in twenty-three or thirteen books, must have been deemed too long, for Heraclides Lembus, circa 181‑146 B.C., brought out his Διαδοχή in six books. Sosicrates of Rhodes, who also belongs to the second century B.C., wrote a Διαδοχή, cited twelve times by Laertius, three citations being from the third book. Antisthenes of Rhodes, again, wrote a Διαδοχή which is cited ten times. His history of his native city, Rhodes, was considered by Polybius an important work.​a He carried the history of philosophy at least as far as Cleanthes.

Apollodorus of Athens was another writer indispensable to any later compiler of a biographical history. About 140 B.C. he published Χρονικά, a compendium of chronology, in comic trimeters. With all its faults, it marked a distinct advance in the p. xxviarrangement and orderly survey of the past. A favourable specimen of Apollodorus's method is furnished by a passage (VIII.52) where he refutes the mistake into which some had fallen who made Empedocles contemporary with the Athenian expedition to Sicily.​9 His Χρονικά won lasting approval. The dates given in it are cited for the earlier and more doubtful figures in Greek philosophy by Laertius, as no doubt they had been by preceding writers.

In short, if modern research and recent controversy can be said to have established anything, it is that Antigonus of Carystus, Sosicrates of Rhodes, and Apollodorus of Athens are primary sources for our author.

In contrast with the labours of the writers above mentioned, who must be credited with some desire, at any rate, of ascertaining the truth, Lobon of Argos, twice cited by Laertius (I.34112), must be set down as a deliberate forger. In his work Upon Poets he attributed 200 lines to Thales, but gave Epimenides credit for two long poems of 5000 and 6500 lines respectively, besides a prose work of 4000 lines. If such works ever existed, Lobon may fairly be credited with their authorship.

To the first century B.C. belong Alexander Polyhistor and two scholars of Magnesia, Demetrius and p. xxviiDiocles, of whom Laertius has made considerable use. Demetrius, a contemporary of Cicero, and a friend of Atticus, to whom he dedicated his work On Concord, struck out a new line of investigation, or rather compilation, in a work on Cities which have the same Name. This was followed by a still more useful work on Poets and Prose-writers of the same Name (briefly cited by Laertius thus: ἐν τοῖς Ὁμωνύμοις, I.38, etc.). The confusion which Demetrius thus sought to remove is illustrated by the work before us. Laertius cites at one time Sosicrates and at another time Sosicrates of Rhodes, and often leaves the reader uncertain which Alexander, Antisthenes, Demetrius, or Heraclides is intended.

Diocles, a friend of the poet Meleager with whom he lived in his youth in Cos, wrote a Compendium of the History of Philosophy (Διαδρομὴ τῶν φιλοσόφων). Of the fifteen citations in our author, eight occur in Book VI and refer to the Cynics, in whom Diocles seems to have taken a peculiar interest. It was upon Diocles that Friedrich Nietzsche fastened when in 1868 he took up the problem: "What was the authority followed by Laertius?" From passages like VII.48 he rashly inferred that Laertius was a mere copyist, owing all to Diocles except his own epigrams and a few annotations.

Alexander, the celebrated polymath, among his multitudinous writings included a History of Philosophy (ἐν ταῖς διαδοχαῖς τῶν φιλοσόφων, VIII.24).

Under the Empire, as we pass from Alexandrian to Roman times, authorities become rarer, or Laertius may exercise greater reserve in mentioning them. Pamphila (Παμφίλη), who lived in the reign p. xxviiiof Nero, wrote a work entitled, according to Photius, Συμμίκτων ἱστορικῶν ὑπομνημάτων λόγοι. Laertius is content with a briefer reference — "in her commentaries" (ἐν τοῖς ὑπομνήμασιν). She seems to have kept a sort of commonplace-book and made entries in it upon points of antiquarian research in which she took an interest.​10 Laertius refers to her eight times, citing Books II, V, VII, XXV, and XXXII of her work which, according to Suidas, included thirty-three books.

That our author read Plutarch is proved beyond doubt not only by citations but by material evidently drawn from the same sources, though Plutarch's name is not mentioned: for an instance see IV.5 (on the historical work of Timonides).

The last of his predecessors to whom Laertius really acknowledges considerable obligations is Favorinus, the most eminent sophist of his day. Born at Arles in Gaul, and famed for his learning and eloquence, he was the intimate friend of Plutarch and Herodes Atticus, of Fronto and Demetrius the Cynic. Gellius was his devoted admirer. He enjoyed the favour of the Emperor Hadrian, but subsequently fell into disgrace, whereupon the Athenians destroyed the bronze statue which they had raised to him. He wrote much. Laertius quotes his Miscellaneous History (Παντοδαπὴ ἱστορία or ὕλη: perhaps Miscellaneous Research would be a better rendering), III.24, VIII.1247, as also the various books of his Memorabilia (Ἀπομνημονεύματα), I.79, IV.5, III.4062. Like his friend Plutarch, he wrote partly on history and partly on philosophy. From the article Ῥόπεις in Stephanus of Byzantium it may be inferred that he made an p. xxixabstract of Pamphila's historical work. The attempt has been made to identify Favorinus as the single authority whom Laertius unintelligently copied, but the attempt signally fails.​11 On the whole it is not very likely that Laertius did blindly follow any single compilation; and, if he had done so, it would have been unwise in him to reveal the secret by naming his source. Indeed scepticism itself now tends to admit that beyond all doubt he read certain authors for himself and made excerpts from them expressly for his own work. This is all but certain as regards Favorinus and Diocles; we will add Pamphila, in spite of the hypothesis that Favorinus may have abridged her work.

Here it will be well to pause. Speculation, indeed, has been busy with what we may call the "secrets of the workshop" — I mean the methods by which the information collected by so many authors found its way into the work before us. When the charge of dishonest plagiarism was dropped, the approved theory of compilation (adopted, for example, by Usener in his Epicurea) reduced the compiler to a mere cipher or shadow. The following is a summary, so far as Book X is concerned. "The compilation presupposes as its basis an older book of Lives, dating presumably from the first century of our era. Some reader then (we may call him Laertius or not, as we will) supplemented his copy by various additions, adding to the chapter on Epicurus, for instance, the three Letters, etc. — much in the same way as we now sometimes in an interleaved copy of a book p. xxxinsert on the blank pages any addenda that happen to interest us. In the third stage, this copy with its heterogeneous matter (i.e. the original text and supplementary accretions) fell into the hands of a copyist who transcribed the contents of the book as they stood in the manuscript, without any thought of redaction or literary form. Our Laertius is certainly just such a formless and unconnected whole as would arise in the way supposed."12

On the contrary, throughout this Introduction it has been assumed that the "biographer" was also the annotating "reader" and the eventual "transcriber." This is the simpler assumption, the common feature or connecting link throughout being a persistent and inveterate habit of citation. Nor is there any good reason why the writer who cites his own epigram in I.39 would not be the same who triumphantly brings his task to a close in X.138, who has prefixed the explanation of the different views taken of schools, sects, and successions (I.13 sq.) to his own arrangement of the Lives under the Ionian and Italian successions, with the supplement of "Sporadics" which he explains in VIII.91. Further, nothing elsewhere suggests that he was so lacking in curiosity, industry, or ability, that he cannot possibly be credited with the scholia or marginal notes which cumber the Epistles and Sovran Maxims of Epicurus.

If now we turn from the lives to the doctrines of philosophers, it is equally clear that the way had been smoothed for an honest and industrious compiler. The tenets of the schools and of separate philosophers, the points of agreement and difference p. xxxiin conflicting systems, had greatly interested the scholars of Alexandria, many of whom owed nominal allegiance to the Peripatetic school. Theophrastus had carried the inquiry down to his own time in his epoch-making work on Physical Opinions (Φυσικαὶ δόξαι). The Stoic Posidonius, two centuries later, embraced a much wider range of speculations in a similar work which must have been used by Cicero and Seneca. In the time of Augustus, Arius Didymus, an Eclectic, wrote an epitome of the ethical and physical doctrines of Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics. From it the similar Eclogae of Stobaeus are principally derived; and Eusebius also is indebted to it in his work Praeparatio Evangelica. The collection Περὶ τῶν ἀρεσκόντων φιλοσόφοις φυσικῶν δογμάτων has come down to us under the name of Plutarch. It would be more accurate to assign it, as Diels has done in his Doxographi Graeci, to a certain Aëtius, who is known to have made such an epitome about A.D. 100. Now it cannot be proved that Laertius did draw directly upon any one of these works, all of which were at his disposal. Yet his summaries of doctrine were undoubtedly derived from these or similar compendia, even where there is no decisive evidence by which we can discover his particular source or sources. We are left in the same ignorance or uncertainty in regard to the sayings (ἀποφθέγματα) of the philosophers. Collections of these had been made before his time, but we are not sufficiently informed about them to be able to state whence, directly or indirectly, he derived his own selection.

One feature of our author's work needs to be emphasized. Like all ancient historians of philosophy, he dwells in the past, scarcely any allusion p. xxxiibeing made to the changes of the three centuries from 100 B.C. to A.D. 200. Compared with the revolutionary movements of earlier times, these changes were no doubt unimportant; for Greece produced no great thinker, not even a teacher of second-rate ability, in the interval between Posidonius and Plotinus. No wonder, then, that those who from time to time told and retold the story of a great past thought themselves obliged to dig and delve in the quarries of antiquity.


Text and Editions

The scholars of Western Europe, as was stated above (p. x),º first made our author's acquaintance in a Latin dress. Walter de Burleigh's De vita et moribus philosophorum was an adaptation rather than a transcript, but Ambrosius Traversarius Camaldulensis came better equipped to his task. He belonged to the order of Camaldoli founded in A.D. 1012 by Romualdinus, and rose to be general of his order. He had learned Greek from Manuel Chrysoloras, the Byzantine professor who in the intervals of state employment lectured at Florence, Rome, and Pavia between 1390 and 1415. The translation of Ambrosius, completed in 1431 (for an extant copy is dated February 1432), was printed first at Rome without date, then at Venice in 1475, at Nuremberg the next year, and several times reprinted at other places, with the alterations due to successive improvements in the Greek text.

 p. xxxiii  The Lives of Aristotle and Theophrastus (Book V cc. 1 and 2) were the first part of the Greek text to be printed. They appeared in the second volume of the Aldine Aristotle at Venice in 1497. The whole of the Greek text, as already mentioned (p. x), was printed at Basel in 1533, with the dedication: Hieronymus Frobenius et Nicolaus Episcopius studiosis S. P. D. In 1566 there appeared at Antwerp another edition, with this title: Laertii Diogenis de vita et moribus philosophorum libri X. Plus quam mille in locis restituti et emendati et fide dignis vetustis exemplaribus Graecis, ut inde Graecum exemplum possit restitui; opera Ioannis Sambuci Tirnavensis Pannonii. Cum indice locupletissimo. Ex officina Christophori Plantini. This editor tells us that he used older MSS., naming the Venetus and Vaticanus. That he has also some readings peculiar to the Borbonicus has been shown by Usener (Epicurea, p16). In 1570 Stephanus (Henri Estienne) published an edition in two volumes at Paris, with notes extending over the first nine books and a revision of Ambrosius' Latin version. A second edition, "cum Is. Casauboni notis multo auctior," was published in 1593 at Paris; a third followed at Geneva in 1615. The fault of these editions (as of Froben's) is that they are based on inferior MSS., such as the Marcianus; and, strangely enough, Stephanus seems to have been unaware of the edition of Sambucus, issued four years before his own. Meanwhile, under the auspices of Cardinal Aldobrandino, there appeared at Rome an edition (with a revised text and a much improved Latin version) in which emendations of the text not infrequently lurk. This had been prepared thirty years earlier by the Cardinal's uncle, p. xxxivThomas Aldobrandinus, who had used the Borbonicus and had annotated the first nine books.

Nor was the tenth book left much longer without a commentator. In due time the energies of Gassendi were concentrated upon it. Both the physical speculations and the ethical doctrine of Epicurus attracted him, and there appeared at Leyden in 1649 Animadversiones in librum X Diogenis Laertii, with a companion volume, De vita et moribus Epicuri. A second edition followed, and a third (Leyden, 1675), in which the two parts, Epicuri philosophiae per Petrum Gassendum, tomus primus, and Epicuri ethicae per Petrum Gassendum, tomus secundus, were united. Gassendi depended less upon MSS. than upon common sense and his own reasoning powers; nevertheless to him, as to his predecessors, Stephanus, Casaubon, and Aldobrandinus, are due some conjectural restorations of the text which subsequent editors accept without reserve; for example, there are three such in X.83.

A variorum edition of the whole work was published by Meibomius in 1691‑92; this included the valuable commentary of Ménage and other illustrative matter. In the eighteenth century hardly anything of note can be chronicled except, perhaps, the edition of Longolius (Chur, 1791). In the nineteenth century appeared the edition of Hübner (Leipzig, 1828‑31), with a preface by Godfrey Hermann, some critical notes, and the annotations of Casaubon and Ménage.

Lastly, there is the edition in the Didot series (Paris, 1850) bearing the name of Cobet. From the Avis des éditeurs, dated August 1, 1850, we learn that the young Cobet was introduced to the publishers p. xxxvin 1842, travelled in Italy to collate MSS., and had completed his revision of the text in 1844, but for some unexplained reason neglected to write the Prolegomena, which he had promised in a letter dated October 5, 1843. The result is that no reasons are assigned and no authorities are cited for the extensive alterations which mark this edition as a great advance upon its predecessors.

If now we turn from printed copies to older sources of the text, there are numerous MSS., but none very old or trustworthy. By far the best is Codex Borbonicus (B) of the National Library at Naples: Gr. III. B 29 is the class-mark. This MS. is dated about A.D. 1200.​13 The scribe obviously knew no Greek; itacisms abound — there are some 150 instances in Book III alone. Breathings and accents are sometimes omitted; words are sometimes wrongly divided, especially in citations of poetry; yet the spelling of certain words is unusually good. In a recent edition of Book III (Vita Platonis) the editors give (p. iv) thirty examples of bad readings, some of which suggest conjectural emendation. Nevertheless all critics agree that B is the most faithful to the archetype.

Next to the Borbonicus comes the Paris codex (Gr. 1759), known as P, probably written a century later, circa 1300. Quite recently Von der Muehll has advocated the claims of two other MSS., one (Co) of the thirteenth or fourteenth century, from p. xxxvithe Library of the Old Seraglio at Constantinople, and the other (W) from the Vatican (Gr. 140) of the fourteenth century. Both these may be said to side with P rather than with B. Lastly, there is the Florentine MS. F (Gr. plut. lxix.13), for which letter Martini and Bywater substitute L.

The superiority of BPF is laid down in Usener's Epicurea, pp.  vi sqq., xxii sqq. Ten years earlier, in 1877, Bonnet had dealt with P, and the conclusion of these two scholars and Wachsmuth has since been generally accepted. Experts are not in entire agreement as to the age of the three MSS., but all three must have been written between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries.

Usener collated in part another Paris codex (Gr. 1758, Q), which had been copied from P before it was interpolated, as well as another Florentine codex, Laurentianus (Gr. plut. lxix.28, G); but these are merely subsidiary.

By ill fortune the editio princeps of 1533 was printed from an inferior MS., the identity of which has been discovered by Von der Muehll, who calls it Z. It is the Raudnitz MS., now in the library of Prince Lobkowitz.

What is most necessary now is an edition such as has been long promised, showing the true tradition of the text when BPFCo (and any other good MSS.) have been stripped of the interpolations introduced by Byzantine or Italian scholars.​b The effect of interpolation superimposed on multifarious errors due to careless copyists is a diversity more apparent than real, which deceives only superficial examination. For we may reasonably assume that a single stray copy, brought to light in the ninth century, was the p. xxxviiparent of all extant MSS.14 The true text, it is agreed, is often preserved by B alone; yet F, on which Cobet relied, is not seldom right, though it also palms off makeshift conjectures. Whether the class of inferior or interpolated MSS. supplies any genuine readings independent of BPF is a question sometimes raised; in any case, not much is to be expected from this quarter. All that can be done by the most careful collation of MSS. has already been done for the more valuable part of Laertius — I mean the fragments of other authors with which his work is filled. Thus Usener has edited Book X in Epicurea (1887). Most of Book VII is incorporated in Von Arnim's Stoicorum veterum fragmenta.​c A still larger instalment of fragments will be found in the works published by Diels, Poetarum philosophorum fragmenta (Berlin, 1901) and Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker (ed. 3, Berlin, 1912). A separate edition of Book III (Vita Platonis) appeared in 1907, edited by Breitenbach, Buddenhagen, Debrunner, and Von der Muehll. The last named is the editor for the Bibliotheca Teubneriana of Epicuri epistulae tres et ratae sententiae a L. D. seruatae (Leipzig, 1922).

In presenting to the reader an eclectic text based largely on the Didot edition, the present writer feels confident that, whatever the less important parts may lose or gain by later revision, the text of what is most valuable, namely the fragments, will undergo little alteration, failing the discovery of fresh MS. material. Of readings subsequent to Cobet here adopted some are long overdue, e.g. Timonides for p. xxxviiiSimonides (IV.5), κινεῖσθαι for κεῖσθαι (III.68), from Plutarch and Plato respectively. Others date from recent years, e.g. ἀρετῶν for ἐτῶν (IV.48), due to the late Herbert Richards (Class. Rev. XVI p395); οἰκτιζομένου for οἰκιζομένου (VIII.67), due to Apelt, ad loc.; κινήσεις for κινεῖται (X.65), due to Bignone (Epicuro, p100), who has elsewhere stoutly defended the manuscript tradition against Usener's alterations. On comparing this passage with X.43, however, he has seen the necessity of emendation, to save Epicurus, if not from a flat contradiction, at least from a misreading, because elliptical, mode of expression. The errors of the earlier editions printed in the sixteenth century have been by slow degrees in large measure removed, the main instrument being conjectural emendation. Now we have access to better manuscripts, and for three of the ten books there is a tolerable apparatus criticus. But even if we were as well informed for the other seven books, the result, instead of precluding, would in all probability invite, the attention of scholars who can apply sane and cautious criticism to a corrupt text.

The Author's Notes:

1 φιλοπλάτωνι δέ σοι . . . ἀναγκαῖον ἡγησάμην ὑπογράψαι (III.47).

2 Of the thirty-nine in the Palatine Anthology (VII.56, 57, 85, 87, 88, 91, 92, 95, 98, 101, 102, 104‑116, 118, 121‑124, 126, 127, 129‑133, 620, 706744), only three (56, 131, 132) are not to be found in the Lives of the Philosophers. The Planudean Appendix includes fourteen more, II.380, 381, III.128, 129, V.34‑42, VII.19, which can also be found in the Lives. The epigram on Periander (I.97) appears in both collections.

3 IX.109 Ἀπολλωνίδης ὁ Νικαεύς, ὁ παρ’ ἡμῶν.

4 Vita Alex. p665 init. πρᾶγμα βραχὺ πολλάκις καὶ ῥῆμα καὶ παιδιά τις ἔμφασιν ἤθους ἐποίησεν μᾶλλον ἢ μάχαι μυριόνεκροι καὶ παρατάξεις αἱ μέγισται καὶ πολιορκίαι πόλεων.

5 "Hiat oratio, uerbis genuinis scholio intruso expulsis," writes Usener in a critical note to X.74.

6 See notes to II.16, IX.18, IX.50.

7 Much relevant information is given by Plutarch's Life of Demetrius: where Plutarch fails, I have derived much help from the Antigonus Gonatas of Mr. Tarn, who has made instructive use of the allusions in Laertius.

8 Aristotle, Pol. II.6, 1265a11.

9 "Apollodorus the grammarian says in his Chronology that Empedocles was the son of Meton, and Glaucus says that he came to Thurii quite shortly after it was founded"; then a little lower he adds: "Those who relate that he left his home for Syracuse and there fought against the Athenians, seem to me to show entire ignorance of the facts; for either he was then no longer living or at all events was extremely old, which makes the story improbable."

10 Cf.  Aul. Gell. XV.23.

11 See Wilamowitz, M., Epistola Critica in Phil. Unters. III.142 sq., and especially "qua tandem de causa totiens Fauorini nomen posuit, si omnia ex eo sumpsit?"

12 Bywater in Class. Rev. II p278.

13 Usener assigns it to the twelfth century; Breitenbach and his colleagues (Diogenis Laertii vita Platonis, Basel, 1907) prefer the end of the twelfth or the beginning of the thirteenth.

14 "Nam exemplum L. D. unicum Constantinopoli post litteras ueteres renatas saeculo circiter nono in bibliotheca quadam inuentum esse suspicamur" (Von der Muehll, in his preface to his edition of Epicuri epistulae, p. vi).

Thayer's Notes:

a XVI.14.

b As of 2018, the most recent critical edition is that of Tiziano Dorandi, Cambridge University Press, 2013: it is said to be a considerable improvement over the previous editions; I haven't seen it.

Prof. Dorandi's method of treating the text of Laërtius is given in his Ricerche sulla più antica tradizione delle Vite di Diogene Laerzio (Prometheus. Rivista di studi classici, pp193‑216, July 2013).

c All three volumes of the S. V. F. are online at Archive.Org: I II III.

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